Earlier this week, April Peveteaux shared how she balances her kids’ kosher demands with her own diet. With the publication of her new cookbook, Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane, April is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.
Some people think parenting gets real when you bring that baby home from the hospital and realize it’s now totally on you to keep it alive. As a more seasoned parent, I know that parenting gets real once you have to enroll your baby into big, bad Kindergarten. Yes, I’m being serious. No, I’m not belittling the fact that keeping your baby alive is a big freaking deal.
Like most parents living in Los Angeles of a certain creative/business/lawyering class, we are simultaneously lucky and cursed to have so many options for educating our children: lucky because the fact that I’m even able to write this piece about the pros and cons of Jewish Day School means that my husband and I CAN AFFORD JEWISH DAY SCHOOL; cursed because those who are given too many choices can often make bad ones. Or expensive ones. Or ones that give you indigestion.
Our choice of sending our children to a progressive, Reform Jewish day school was not the obvious one. But at the time, and even now with the benefit of hindsight I would maintain, it certainly seemed like the best. Still, we’re a mixed religious family and not particularly observant, so spending every day learning Hebrew from ages 5 to 11 seemed excessive.
Surprisingly, our ambivalence became the strongest reason to choose the path of Moses. Since my husband is Jewish, but very hazy on his Hebrew school knowledge, this felt to me like the best possible way to introduce our children to half of their heritage. As a Protestant from the Great Plains, I was not going to be able to help them with their Torah portion if they decided to be a bar and bat mitzvah. I’d always been interested in learning more about Judaism myself, so we decided this was a fantastic opportunity to give our children an excellent education while allowing them to discover Judaism and what it meant for them.
We have been incredibly happy with our children’s school. The focus on tikkun olam in our community has been the most impactful part of their early education. Living in a huge city like Los Angeles this school affords them the opportunity to exist and learn in a small, loving, like-minded community. This has also been a blessing. Yet, we have had our doubts about wrapping up our little citizens of the world in a tiny bubble.
Teaching our Jewish kids how to heal the world through service is an amazing start that I wish for every child. I will never undervalue the impact these years have had on my children and their ability to empathize and act when they see injustice in the world. Yet, I can’t help but feel that allowing our children to experience diversity of all kinds on a daily basis will enhance empathy in a real world way.
Eventually, our children need to live in the world outside of their bubble. To study alongside children who are not exactly like them. To understand that some classmates may be hungry, that some face racial, religious, gender, or class discrimination. They will see these children, because they’re sitting next to these kids in class, asking what they got for #9, and where everyone’s going after the after-after party.
Living in a city with such diversity but keeping our children away from the majority of its citizens started to feel like a disservice to our children. As parents of young ones, we do want to keep them surrounded by love and comfort at all times. But as parents of future adults, we have a responsibility to teach our children that they do not, in fact, exist in their own universe. Other people occupy the world who have different needs, different beliefs, and won’t agree with them at every turn.
While some people may think throwing children into the wilds of public school in Los Angeles is cruel and unusual — I mean the lunch options alone — we are not those people. Or maybe, we are no longer those people. Perhaps it took us too long to come to the realization that our job as parents is to not only protect and nurture our children, but to create good people who truly get what other people have to endure simply to get an education, and to prepare them for adulthood. At some point our kids have to learn that their worldview is not shared by all of their peers. And their fresh, organic, kosher lunch is a privilege, not the norm for children who eat one or more meals at school every weekday.
We are so grateful for the time our children spent surrounded by love, and the supportive families who will always be part of their journey. We are especially thankful for the lessons in Judaism they learned every day. We know they are able to look outward and question what they think they know, and that is because of the years spent at the Jewish day school. That is not nothing. That is not to be taken for granted, and forgotten. It’s simply that now, for many reasons, some altruistic, some convenient, it’s time to leave the nest and live in the real world. All four of us.